Into the backblocks with the sorcerers
Death of another PNG independence great

The biggest threat: leaders there for themselves


TUMBY BAY - An interesting phenomenon has been developing in politics over recent decades which seems to have accelerated in the last ten years or so.

It’s the global problem of politicians of dubious merit and intent, totally not worthy of election, who are nevertheless populating governments everywhere.

So instead of people having the choice of voting for the best candidates from a field of suitably qualified and committed aspirants, they are forced to select the least bad candidate from whatever motley line-up of incompetents is on offer.

This sad situation is increasingly evident by what were once national government obligations being taken over and led by ordinary citizens, businesses and lower levels of government.

The most obvious case of this relates to action on climate change, particularly in Trump’s America and still the case in Scott Morrison’s recidivist Australia.

In Australia, action to combat climate change, such as setting targets for emissions reduction and adopting carbon-neutral technologies, has been taken out of the hands of the national government which indeed attempts to thwart such action.

The same thing is happening in Australia and elsewhere with other pressing social and environmental issues.

Whether this presages a fundamental shift in public sentiment against current forms of governance in favour of populism and, even more sinister, despotism is yet to become evident but as the swing becomes more evident that seems not an unreasonable conclusion.

One of the questions frequently asked about national governments in particular is that, irrespective of their national responsibilities to entire populations, who do they really represent?

Do they represent their constituents or do they represent vested interests who donate money to their parties?

But perhaps that question is becoming not so clear cut.

With regard to climate change, for instance, some of the big corporate entities are making positive changes to the way they operate.

Their money is still important but it seems that, more narrowly, ideology and self-interest (including ensuring cronies are placed in strategic positions) have taken over.

It is refreshing to observe that in Australia, the USA and Europe, farmers are leading the change towards sustainable practices despite the positions of political parties that claim to represent them.

But this separation of the interests of the whole from the interests of the power elite is becoming a real threat to the notion of democracy.

And it leads to incompetence and poor decision-making.

Nowadays, watching governments making stupid decisions has become a spectator sport.

In Papua New Guinea, for instance, the Marape government has decided it is a good idea to survey people's views about making the nation a constitutional Christian country. This amid an out of control pandemic.

The stupidity and callousness of doing such a thing while the population is in grave danger from Covid is astonishing.

It is on a par with planning to build new coal fired power stations during the climate emergency, as is happening in Australia.

This disjoint between what governments are doing and what people want them to do has become so widespread that it’s not unreasonable to expect that something will soon shatter and bring the whole edifice down.

By edifice one can include democracy and the capitalist system in general.

We are fortunate perhaps that the new American president, Joe Biden, has apparently observed these toxic changes in democratic governance and wants to do something to remedy them.

One can only hope that he is genuine, which is not clear yet, and that other leaders will follow his example.


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Paul Oates

Having previously lauded the book ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harrari, I’m now into his sequel ‘Homo Deus’.

Early in the book, the author makes an interesting point. Hitherto, humans were able to blame the gods, spirits or in PNG, ‘masalai and sanguma’, etc when the perils of famine, pestilence (disease), and war slaughtered huge numbers of people.

In the modern world however, scientific knowledge has now almost effectively dispelled belief in the spirit world as causes for the depredations of these ‘three horsemen’ that have killed millions of people in human history.

Most now accept that scientific knowledge has revealed the true causes of the historic reasons why so many people live in misery or die. Now that we know and have the means (increased food production, modern medicine and effective political action), to effectively stop these horrific situations and deaths from happening, our leaders can’t claim it’s the will of the gods or god.

By the start of the third millennium (year 2000 CE), most people now know that if and when famine, pestilence and war kill millions, it’s the fault of our political leaders who haven’t used the known remedies to stop these three factors from killing people.

However, it’s so easy to blame others when you don’t want to look closer to home for responsibility at election time. Wilful ignorance then equates to blaming somebody else for your own dilemma.

Chris Overland

I think that the phenomenon that Phil is describing is real and was indeed epitomised by the appalling Trump and his enablers in the USA.

Our current Australian prime minister is a mere shadow of Trump, which is probably more to his credit than not.

In Australia, it has been the State and Territory leaders who have led the charge against Covid-19, not the Federal government.

While I would hesitate to call the Federal government a kakistocracy, it certainly falls very far short of the standards of basic competence set by its predecessors.

Once, Federal politicians conceived of themselves as superior to their State and Territory counterparts, playing in what they imagined to be a higher league altogether. I am not at all sure that the public would agree with this idea now.

In PNG I think that the notion of a the country being ruled by a kakistocracy is depressingly close to reality. With some notable and worthy exceptions, PNG's national politicians have shown themselves to be venal opportunists at best and sometimes rather worse than that.

But, as Phil has observed, this is frequently the situation in many other places too. India's BJP government has been spectacularly inept in the management of the pandemic and their incompetence and bad judgement has resulted in a hideously large death toll.

The leader of the Opposition in India has said that the government has effectively murdered many people and it seems that many Indians believe that this is true.

Democracy is always a messy, noisy and difficult. Even basically quite competent and well intentioned politicians can struggle to cope with this inherent disorder.

Vehement disagreements over difficult policy issues are frequently played out in full public view. Often this process is the subject of breathless and not necessarily accurate or unbiased reporting the media, so creating an impression of instability and disunity.

However, there remains an underlying stability within a functioning democracy that ensures that, no matter how vehement the disagreements, eventually a workable compromise is achieved.

This may take a long time and produce a sub-optimal policy outcome, but it does mostly help steer the nation in the right general direction.

Authoritarian governments always strive to ensure that their political disputes are very well hidden and that any hint of public dissent from the stated policy positions is ruthlessly suppressed by whatever means necessary.

This helps create a surface impression of stability, order and calm and this usually is claimed to be a "natural" attribute of the system of government.

But, beneath the surface, fear, discontent, anger and even hatred can seeth quietly.

History tells us that, very often, when this long suppressed sentiment finally explodes into view, the regime teeters or even falls under the weight of the lies, distortions and insoluble contradictions that have been denied, ignored or buried for a very long time.

So, the fundamental strength of democracy is the very process which authoritarians see as a weakness.

Even a kakistocracy can, perversely, generate the momentum required to make the very policy changes that it abhors and detests.

The early evidence is that this may well be the greatest achievement of Donald Trump, because his successor is now attempting to implement a long overdue reform process within the US polity.

Whether this can be done in the face of still fierce and determined resistance from a privileged, hysterical, hypocritical and sometimes almost deranged Republican opposition is an open question, but the tide of history has indisputably turned against their reactionary world view.

As for the Russian Tsarist regime in 1905, the writing is on the wall for the defenders of the status quo in the USA and resistance will ultimately be futile.

Sadly, I see little sign that such a reform process is underway in PNG. The people may have to suffer a great deal more before the political impetus swings in favour of genuine reformers or, possibly, determined revolutionaries.

Bernard Corden

Dear Phil,

There is a term called a kakistocracy:

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